Translated by Verity Lane
Things You Don’t Often Hear: The Difference Between “Jinja”, “Taisha”, “Jingū” and “Gū”
This is an article that explains the differences between terms used to identify different shrines in Japan: "jinja", "taisha" and "gu".
Written by MATCHA
There are various terms used in conjunction with Japanese shrines (神社, Jinja), such as taisha (大社) and jingū (神宮). How are these expressions determined?
What's the Difference Between Jingū and Taisha?
The general function of a shrine is to revere ancient Japanese gods. The term taisha was originally a way of referring to a particular shrine in Shimane Prefecture, called Izumo-taisha. However, by the end of the 19th Century there was an increase in the amount of shrines carrying the taisha title, such as Kasuga-taisha in Nara Prefecture, and Suwa-taisha in Nara and in Nagano Prefectures.
This shrine title was given to places of Shinto worship nationwide before the Second World War. The expression taisha functioned as a way of grouping together shrines that carry the same name. Despite these shrines taking a higher precedence; they also indicate places with a particular historical background.
So, What Exactly is Jingū and Gū?
Gods which are enshrined within Japanese shrines are referred to as saijin in Japanese. The term saijin refers to the ancestors of the Imperial Household. Shrines that harbour a deep rooted connection with royalty are called jingū in Japanese. Mie Prefecture's Ise Jingū, where the sun goddess Amaterasu-Ōmikami is enshrined heads the list, followed by other famous shrines, such as Meiji Jingū in Tokyo where the Meiji Emperor is deified.
Places that carry the name, miya or gū (宮) similar to jingū, are normally shrines that harbor a deep connection with the royal household. These shrines are referred to as shinō, and are dedicated to male members of the imperial family (tenōke). Even shrines where important historical figures are deified traditionally include the gū suffix. At famous places including Toshō-gū where Ieyasu Tokugawa (the first Tokugawa shogun) is deified, and Tenmangū where Sugawara Nomichi (the famous scholar from the Heian period) is enshrined.